How to safely get rid of pesky critters

When I started working for Cornell Cooperative Extension back in the mid 1970s, I was told that under no circumstances should I pass on home remedies to clients looking for information. The reason, of course, was due to liability concerns. If I suggested a home remedy that either did not work or resulted in damage, the University could be held liable for my bad advice. All the information I was allowed to share was based on scientific research conducted by universities, government agencies, or, more often by chemical companies trying to sell their products. When it came to making pesticide recommendations, I was told “The label is the law.” If a specific pest was not listed on the label of the product, it was a crime to use it on that particular pest. I almost lost my job early on when I jokingly suggested in one of my “Home and Garden” newsletters, that a live chicken could be used to clean soot and creosote from a chimney. I told readers to tie a rope around the chicken’s legs and pull it up and down the chimney. The birds flapping wings would effectively dislodge soot. A local poultry farmer did not see the humor in my comment and neither did the local PETA people.

Now that I am happily retired and not getting paid for my advice, I can suggest home remedies that may or may not work and let readers try them themselves, if they so desire. This week I will pass on some home remedies that readers have suggested, or that I have used myself.

Perhaps the most common pest control questions I receive in recent years are concerning “critters.” Deer have become a major nuisance throughout the region, particularly in suburban areas. One reader suggested a remedy that others have tried and found to be quite effective. Beat two raw eggs, mix with a cup of milk and allow the mixture to turn rancid in an outdoor bucket or pail. Add a gallon of water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Mix well, strain out the solids and spray on your landscape plants. This mixture works quite well for weeks until it eventually gets washed or weathers off. Some people will add some crushed garlic to the mix which may offer additional protection against other critters.

Chipmunks also are common pests and they are indeed hard to deter. One reader was having problems with them climbing into her hanging baskets of petunias, where they chewed through the flower stalks. She tried putting garlic in the baskets, but the chipmunks were unfazed. Next she tried putting sprigs of lavender in the basket and that seems to have done the trick. I would love to hear from other readers about this technique. I much prefer the fragrance of lavender to garlic.

Most people know that deer ticks may spread Lyme disease and other serious illness, but fewer people know that the ticks must acquire the pathogens from small rodents, like mice. It is these small, mammal, rodents that maintain and pass on the disease causing agents to their offspring. Newly hatched ticks acquire the pathogens in their first blood meal and carry them into their nymph and adult stages, when they are more likely to feed on humans. The repellent “Permethrin” is very effective at both repelling and killing ticks. If you save cardboard tubes, such as from toilet paper or paper towels and stuff them with cotton balls that have been sprayed with permethrin, (wear gloves) mice will often use these cotton balls as nesting material, thus killing ticks. One reader reports that this practice has essentially eliminated deer ticks on his immediate property. He leaves the tubes anywhere that mice might nest such as in his attic, sheds, basement and other outbuildings.

Those of you who grow phlox or zinnias, or hollyhocks, know that powdery mildew, a fungal disease, can devastate these as well as many other ornamental and even food crops. Mixing two tablespoons of baking soda with a teaspoon of salad oil, plus a few drops of dishwashing detergent and adding a gallon of water, make a very effective, protectant, fungicide that can be sprayed on susceptible plants before infection occurs.

Nobody likes having a skunk nesting under a shed, porch, or outbuilding. Since skunks are generally nocturnal, the solution often involves sealing the entrance when the skunks are outside. To insure that you do not seal them inside, accidentally, spread some flour on the ground where you think the animal is getting in and out. Go out at night looking for their tell-tale tracks, leading away from the structure and seal the entrance point.

Finally, to find out where bats may be getting in and out of your attic, put several bright lights in the attic at night and look for where the light is escaping. Seal the openings at night when the bats are outside.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

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